A little known change to the criteria for Federal Compassionate Release

Compassionate Release is a process for federal prisoners that allows inmates to request immediate release on medical or humanitarian grounds.

However, many people are unaware of a change in the law that allows prisoners the ability to file for Compassionate Release on grounds related to their sentence length, sentence type, or sentence structure.

Historically, the granting of Compassionate Release has been very limited and extremely rare. In addition, the BOP has been notorious for its practice of opposing most requests for Compassionate release. However, with the enactment of the FIRST STEP Act of 2018, the ability to file for Compassionate Release in the courts, has been greatly expanded. In fact, since its enactment, over 2,000 Compassionate releases have been granted by the courts.

Not only has the ability to access the courts been greatly expanded by the FIRST STEP Act of 2018 but also the criteria for compassionate release has been greatly expanded as well. A little-known use of the new criteria for Compassionate Release is the ability to claim some harsh sentences as grounds for Compassionate Release.

This is due to the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, which brought with it a language that allows for federal prisoners to request for Compassionate Release for “extraordinary and compelling circumstances.” This catch-all phrase allows for prisoners to request compassionate release for extenuating circumstances, such as medical conditions, personal and family hardships, or age-related reasons. It also allows for prisoners to claim their sentence as an extraordinary and compelling reason to consider for Compassionate Release.

Do you or your loved one have a virtual life sentence for a crime that would carry a much lesser sentence today? If so, they might have grounds for extraordinary and compelling circumstances. For example, the courts have found that stacked 924 (c) cases are extraordinary and compelling, and as such, warrant a reduction in sentence, U.S. v Urkevich, 2020 LEXIS 197408 (D. Nebraska). Other examples of sentence types that may be grounds for Compassionate Release include, among other things, the use of 851 mandatory sentences for repeat drug offenders.

Another critical change in the criteria for compassionate release that the FIRST STEP Act brought is increased access to the courts. In the past, inmates had a lengthy process, which was often delayed by BOP procedures, just to be eventually denied. An inmate was forced to exhaust all administrative remedies before filing with the courts. Some inmates even passed away while awaiting a BOP response.

Now, with the passage of the FIRST STEP Act, inmates may have access to the courts within 30 days of filing their initial request to their institutional warden. Furthermore, anyone who believes they have extraordinary and compelling circumstances may request a Compassionate Release.

First, an inmate must submit an official request to the institutional Warden, asking for a Compassionate Release. The warden has (30) days to respond. This is a critical step in the process, and it is important that an inmates ‘ request be thorough and complete.

If an inmate’s request is not granted within (30) days, 18 U.S.C. subsection 3582 (c) (1) (A) allows for a motion to be filed in the court, requesting consideration for Compassionate Release.

 

Article by Greg Berry, Brandon Sample PLC

About Brandon Sample

Brandon Sample is an attorney, author, and criminal justice reform activist. Brandon’s law practice is focused on federal criminal defense, federal appeals, federal post-conviction relief, federal civil rights litigation, federal administrative law, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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